The question ‘what is art?’ has long plagued our species as we seem to be the only species that creates it. One definition is that Mankind makes two things: Tools & Art. Tools serve a physical and singular purpose whereas Art does not. Others say it is simply pure expression of the Will with no absolute purpose. Whereas a lot of people say Art does have a deep and profound purpose even an instructive one. The debate will rage for many centuries to come I’m sure but one thing is for certain humankind has created Art since the birth of consciousness and it shows no sign of stopping. Art seems to be a by-product of living. People who claim to have no creative or artistic leaning will still be creative in some way or will have some creative outlet, no matter how small or apparently inconsequential. The difference between the everyday person who is creative and The Artist is that The Artist has a passion for the Arts and dedicates study, education, time and effort to their development in the field so they might become more accomplished in it.
Content is a funny word. With the same spelling but a subtle difference in pronunciation it can either mean a state of peaceful happiness or a thing that which something contains. The meaning of the latter was once an identifiable object: the content of a glass was water, the content of a painting was a landscape or a portrait. Today the meaning has become more abstract. Content has providers, editors, managers, controllers and more. Content now has many meanings under one heading.
In recent years technology has levelled a great deal of playing fields in every industry and certainly in the arts. As an example for Photographers, what would have taken years of study in a darkroom to develop the techniques associated with printing a photograph and editing its final product and then a minute understanding of curation and galleries to display in is superseded by Instagram which will edit an image in a moment and display it for millions in mere seconds. We would call the former Photographer an Artist yet scholars, academics and critics would sneer at describing an ‘Instagrammer’ as an Artist. Thanks to technology developing a more egalitarian distribution of automated expertise the establishment surrounding the Art world is forced to find ways of differentiating the Artist from the everyday person and their creative outlet, thus dismissing Instagram and similar social media sites. What this implies is that to critics of internet outlets Art, ‘real Art’, is about the discipline and effort involved not necessarily the content of the Art. The creativity and uniqueness of a given image is dismissed due to its medium and normally what the image is of. Kim Kardashian’s Instagram feed became a book of self portraits published by Rizzoli, InstaPoet Rupi Kaur’s collection of Poetry ‘Milk & Honey’ is published by Andrews McMeel, both sell very well and both are largely not taken seriously by the artistic establishment or general patrons of the Arts. If they are called an Artist it is with the caveat ‘Internet’ or ‘Social Media’ as a prefix. In addition, with technology making many different styles and disciplines of Art available today’s ‘Internet Artist’ is often a multi-disciplined, multi-skilled creator. YouTube celebrities often write and edit their own videos, direct short films, setup photography shoots, write their own books, develop independent channels for reviews, journalism or anything that takes their (and their audience’s) interest. As such many people in more traditional media outlets and art industries struggle to define what these Artists actually are.
To counteract this they have instead been labelled as ‘Creatives’ and what they create, their creative output, is ‘Content’. This signals a very important change in the perception of the modern Artist: The Artist as commodity. The chief manner in which many internet Artists make their money is advertising. The average Youtuber or Instagrammer has a provable audience share in their follower count, they have metrics on who sees them, who interacts, how often and so on. This repurposing of business speak, ‘Creative’ and ‘Content’, for Artists and their output is indicative of how their creativity is perceived by those wishing to finance their creativity. Since the first Artist, their making a living has been a problem. The inherent monetary value of Art is at the whim of the public and like the definition of art itself it is hard to ascribe a financial definition to it too. Often an Artist relied on a Patron or familial wealth to support their endeavours, today these still stand but they have just updated. Many Internet Artists see the patronage of advertisers as freeing, no need to break into the near impossible Artistic Society bubble, yet as YouTubers recently discovered advertisers have certain demands and legalities they must abide by and so must control how their products are advertised which many YouTube artists and their ‘Content’ don’t adhere to. As such a recent crackdown meant a lot of YouTubers lost money due to monetisation of their videos being removed and in some cases channels were shut down. Unfortunately due to the open nature of the internet the absence of one channel/profile is often of little concern to the site as whole as there is always a wealth of other Creatives churning out Content daily.
Art has intrinsic value in that it is essential to life, whether we realise it or not. Cuts to funding in the Arts makes it harder and harder to make a living or even develop the skills necessary to become an Artist in an educational institution. Therefore it makes sense that Artists use one of the only avenues left available to them to educate themselves, develop their craft and create and publish works of art. Yet they are immediately dismissed as crass, vain, cheap, intellectually barren and so on. Not all ‘Content’ on the internet is great by any means but there are some truly great artists producing genuine works of Art online that get buried amongst the chaff. Throwing the baby out with the bath water regarding internet Artists may seem trivial but traditional Artists and their mediums are going to have to accept that digital ‘Creatives’ and their ‘Content’ are, in many ways, the future and have the potential to be as revolutionary and valuable as themselves and should afford them the same titles of Art and Artist. The goal should, ironically, be to judge them and their work on their Content not their medium.